The Old Man and the Sea is a novel was the last major work of fiction to be written by Ernest Hemingway and published in his lifetime. It is considered to be one of his most famous works and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.
The Old Man and the Sea is the story of a battle between an old, experienced Cuban fisherman and a large marlin. The novel opens with the explanation that the fisherman, who is named Santiago, has gone 84 days without catching a fish. In fact, he is so unlucky that his young apprentice, Manolin, has been forbidden by his parents to sail with the old man and been ordered to fish with more successful fishermen. Still dedicated to the old man, however, the boy visits Santiago's shack each night. On the eighty-fifth day, Santiago sets out alone, taking his skiff far onto the Gulf Stream. He sets his lines and, by noon of the first day, a big fish that he is sure is a marlin takes his bait. After a long struggle with the fish Santiago manages to strap the marlin to the side of his skiff and heads home, thinking about the high price the fish will bring him at the market and how many people he will feed. While Santiago sails back back to the shore, sharks are attracted to the trail of blood left by the marlin in the water. Despite his efforts to ward off the sharks, they have almost devoured the marlin's entire carcass, leaving a skeleton consisting mostly of its backbone, its tail and its head. Once home, he slumps onto his bed and falls into a deep sleep. The next day, a group of fishermen gather around the boat where the fish's skeleton is still attached. Manolin, worried during the old man's endeavor, cries upon finding him safe asleep. The boy brings him newspapers and coffee. When the old man wakes, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of his youth—of lions on an African beach. The old man feels very unwell and also coughs up blood a few times towards the end of the story. He doesn't tell the boy.
The novel has received so much praise and is considered to be one of the best novels in American literature. Santiago fights the creatures of the sea and some readers think that the story is about man’s battle against the natural world. However, the novel can be viewed as the story of man’s place in relation to nature. In the story, Santiago and the marlin show similar qualities of pride, honor, and bravery, and both are subject to the same eternal natural law - they must kill or be killed. Santiago himself says:
“man is not made for defeat . . . man can be destroyed but not defeated.”